One of the first acts that led to Theresa May being perceived as a tough home secretary was banning controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik, whose five-year UK visa was cancelled hours before he was scheduled to take off from Mumbai six years ago.
May, set to take over as prime minister, had been in the post for a little more than a month after the May 2010 elections. Reports in the British media had highlighted Naik’s controversial views and his forthcoming visit to deliver lectures at major events in Sheffield, Wembley and Birmingham.
The Home Office investigated Naik and, using discretionary powers to exclude individuals from entering Britain, May decided on June 16 his presence in Britain would not be conducive to public good.
The next day, the deputy British high commission in Mumbai delivered a letter to Naik, cancelling his visa hours before he was to take off on June 18 and informing him May had “decided to exclude you from the UK for engaging in unacceptable behaviour by making statements that attempt to justify terrorist activity and fostering hatred”.
Naik, currently in focus after it emerged that one of the attackers who targeted a cafe in Dhaka had followed the preacher on social media, had travelled around 15 times to Britain, delivering lectures and participating in activities related to his companies and charity organisations. In August 2006, a Welsh MP expressed concern over the contents of his lecture in Cardiff.
May used 11 controversial public statements by Naik in the decade following 1997 as evidence of “unacceptable behaviour”, which was incorporated in law soon after the July 2005 London bombings amid concern over individuals travelling to Britain to encourage extremism.
Naik challenged May’s ban decision in the high court here, insisting he was against terrorism; that reports in the British media were false and had misrepresented him; that his quotes were taken out of context and his visit was intended to deliver a message of peace based on Islamic values.
In November 2010, the high court upheld May’s decision. Delighted at the victory, May said: “An individual will be excluded if their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good. We make no apologies for refusing people access to the UK if we believe they might seek to undermine our society.”
She added: “Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right and we are not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter the UK. Exclusion powers are very serious and no decision is taken lightly.”
May went on to act against other controversial individuals, further cementing her image as a tough, no-nonsense home secretary. Her actions were often highlighted by Prime Minister David Cameron among his government’s major achievements.
He told the Israeli parliament in 2014: “We’ve excluded more foreign preachers of hate on the basis of our strategy for preventing extremism than ever before. We said ‘no’ to Zakir Naik, we said ‘no’ to Yusuf Qaradawi and we said ‘no’ to Judon Mumbala Umbala, whose abhorrent displays of anti-Semitism have no place in a tolerant and inclusive Britain.”
As May continued her tough policy, Cameron was to later add: “And we kicked out Babar Ahmad, Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada too. We are a tolerant country – but if you preach terror you are not welcome here.”
Naik’s Peace TV is available in Britain on the Sky platform and is regulated by Ofcom, the communications regulator. His Islamic Research Foundation International registered with the Charity Commission had an income of £972,490 in 2015, according to its annual return.
The number of individuals excluded from the UK under the ”unacceptable behaviour” policy between October 25, 2012 and October 25, 2013 was 11, official figures reveal.
UK’s list of unacceptable behaviours (announced after July 2005 London bombings):
The list of unacceptable behaviour is indicative rather than exhaustive. It covers any non-UK national whether in the UK or abroad, who uses any means or medium including:
* writing, producing or distributing material;
* public speaking including preaching
* running a website; or
* using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader
To express views which:
* justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs;
* seek to provoke others to terrorist acts;
* foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts or;
* foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.
(Source: UK high court judgement in Naik v Secretary of State for Home; November 5, 2010)